Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Artist mis-statements

I did some volunteer work last week, proofreading the catalog for the Surface Design Association's big show at Arrowmont this fall.  Based on what I read -- I saw only the words, not the pictures -- it looks like a great show and I will make sure that I see it in person.

My marching orders as a proofreader were to be flexible; "We would like to keep this as close to each artist's voice as possible," I was told.  If people spelled it "colour" or used varying degrees of formality, that was OK.  But I did flag misspellings (Minnesotta, anyone?) and outright grammatical errors.

I wasn't expecting to find as many grammatical errors as I did.  But what really surprised me was that almost all the errors were the same thing: subjects and verbs did not agree.  Would you believe that eight of the 91 artists committed this mistake?

I'll take off my proofreader's hat and put on my writing teacher's hat.  The reason educated people writing about serious subjects commit subject/verb errors is usually because their sentences are way too long and are way too grammatically complex.  Educated people don't write "the interplay determine how the work will look in the end."  But they might very well write -- and in fact, somebody did --  "the interplay of disparate materials, of concept and making, and certainly emotion determine how the work will look in its ultimate incarnation."  There is so much padding in that sentence that by the time you get to the verb you've forgotten that the subject is "interplay," requiring a singular verb, not "materials, concept, making and emotion," which would require a plural verb were it the subject.

(And if you were to take another step back, what does that sentence mean?  The idea, the emotion, the materials and the technique all influence the art.  Well duh.) 

I challenge you to look at your own artist statement.  Parse it for grammar.  Do not count on spell check to find your typos -- spell check is perfectly fine with a "limited addition" of prints, and can't tell the difference between "its" and it's."

Then read your statement for sense.  Don't waste a lot of long, pretentious words telling us something that means nothing.  Think about what we, the audience, should know about you and your work.  Tell us something that will make us appreciate your work better, not something that will put us to sleep.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Photo suite 183 -- Woodbourne Avenue 4

Almost every house on the older end of Woodbourne Avenue has a front porch, and guess what?  People put funny stuff out on their porches.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Happy birthday!

My father would have turned 102 today so I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate by a moment of communion with one of his favorite works of art, which I have fortunately inherited.

If you've ever visited the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz you probably saw this statue in the front yard. When we lived in Germany many years ago my dad, lover of printing and typography, had to visit the museum, of course.

Sometime later my dad got to visit another of his great idols, Hermann Zapf, the great type designer of the 20th century who just died earlier this month (you probably know Zapf Dingbats, as well as Palatino and Optima).  Zapf had a bust of Gutenberg in his home, and Dad admired it.  Yes, it was the same one from the museum, by Wäinö Aaltonen, a contemporary Finnish sculptor.  Zapf said he owned the rights to reproduce another bust, somewhat smaller than the original, and would Dad like to have one?  Is the Pope Catholic?

So Dad had this bust made by the same foundry, and it has always held the place of honor in the household.

Several years before my parents died, they held an infamous "art auction" among us three children, in which we got to divvy up all their pictures, sculptures and other precious items.  (Of course we couldn't take possession until much later.)  I am the oldest and thus got first pick, which of course was Gutenberg.

Here's Gutenberg wearing a festive hat to celebrate Dad's birthday.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Daily art -- why I do it

Yesterday Vickie left a comment on my post about daily collage that read: "What is the benefit you get from this daily creative activity?  I know that many artists have a warm-up each day to get their creative juices flowing.  As a new fiber artist I just want to get started on my work each day and a warm-up seems like time away from the "real thing."  Am I limiting my perspective by not exploring through other media?"

I thought it was an excellent question and wanted to respond in sufficient depth and thoughtfulness to give a good answer.  I discussed a similar question a few years ago but why not have at it again!  I've been doing daily art since 2003, and since 2009 it's been formal: specific rules set at the beginning of the year.  It has become an important part of my life and my art practice.

I don't regard my daily art as a warm-up, as Vickie described it.  I regard it as making art -- just a different body of work than my quilts and mixed media pieces.  It isn't a little five-minute sketch that I whip out on the back of a napkin on my way to the "real" studio; it takes time and thought, which I usually don't begrudge.

I keep what I make and wouldn't mind exhibiting it, although I haven't yet had such opportunities.  I think the "dailyness" of the work is part of its artistic character; some days are stronger than others, but the so-so days act as background to the focal points, just as in any other artistic composition.

When I review my work I like to note how it changes over time, as I try out new techniques and motifs.  For instance, here's a discussion of spirals, which I first explored in my hand-stitched daily art and have carried over into my paper collages.

Vickie asks if she is missing something by focusing on her "real thing" instead of also working in other materials.  I think that's a valid concern; I always struggle against the temptation to work on some peripheral piece instead of what I consider my "real work."  I try to overcome that with rules (that's probably another blog post).

But since I don't regard my daily art as peripheral, I don't worry about it distracting me, any more than I worry about my big quilts distracting me from my collages.  And I don't specifically choose my daily art to be a non-fiber medium.  In fact, in two years I've chosen to work in fiber, once by making a daily quilt square and once through hand-stitching.

Don't know if I have sufficiently explained the magical pull of daily art.  Although many people practice it, I'm sure their motivations aren't all the same as mine.  If you've had your own experience with daily art, please chime in...

(And you can check out all my daily art here.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Collage consternation

I've been doing daily collages since January 1, 2013, changing the ground rules slightly every now and then, and at the end of last year I asked myself if I wanted to keep on into 2015.  I decided I hadn't yet fully explored the format, and signed on for another year.

But by April I was feeling burned out and stale.  Perhaps it was the new rule I gave myself this year: each collage must include a word or phrase from that day's newspaper (or other publication).  I thought that would give a new dimension to the assignment but instead it seemed to put on more pressure without corresponding rewards.

The rule survived a month in Europe, during which I had no access to newspapers on some days and had to scramble to follow the rules.  Here are two from days when I used gift shop receipts.

But when I got home I found myself struggling to maintain enthusiasm.  Then to add insult to injury, I went back to the store to buy another pack of 4x6 inch cards in assorted colors, like the blue and purple on the collages above.  I had bought them at the beginning of the year and liked the variety of different colors, but now was running out.

There were none on the shelves, and the store's paper buyer maintained that they had never carried this product (of course I had thrown away the packaging back in January).  I found that hard to believe but it was another little blow to my collage happiness.  So I was back to working on white index cards.

Earlier this month I decided that maybe I should try something a little different for a while.  So I spent two and a half weeks doing "news haikus," in which I found an illustrated news story, then searched for phrases of the proper number of syllables that would condense or riff upon the story.  I had previously done a couple of 50-day news haiku projects -- because there were 50 pages in my little sketchbooks -- and enjoyed that process.

It took the pressure off the visual aspects of the collage -- most of the time I simply cut out the picture from the news story and pasted it down, without worrying about composition or complexity -- but put the pressure on to the verbal aspects.  Finding the five- and seven-syllable phrases that accurately represent the news story is tricky and time-consuming.  But it was different from what I had been doing for two years.

On this past Sunday, after spending a half hour vainly searching for haiku-able stories in the paper and finding none, I decided the respite was over.  I'm back to my "regular" collage style and at least so far have felt energy that I hadn't seen in months.  The obvious time to change rules in an annual daily art project is at the turn of the quarter, so I had thought maybe I'd do something drastic on July 1.  But I think I'll just stick with the program, occasionally giving myself a little change of pace to keep the blood flowing.  Hope it works!!

You can check out all my daily collages here.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Quilts 20/20 at Susquehanna

Last night was the opening of a new show in Harrisburg PA, in which curator Pat Pauly has paired 20 contemporary quilts with 20 traditional quilts from the museum's collection.  I am delighted to have been invited to participate, and here's a poster showing my quilt Crazed 8: Incarceration (or actually, about half of it) with its counterpart.

I hope I can make it to see the show sometime this summer but unfortunately getting to the opening was impossible.  If your travels take you near Harrisburg maybe you can drop in and visit!

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Mending Project 4

I've written before about my volunteering in a performance art installation called The Mending Project, in which members of the public are supposed to bring in damaged garments or textiles to be mended.  The first three shifts I worked resulted in zero mending -- the museum hasn't figured out how to get the word out that people are supposed to bring in stuff.  It was getting frustrating.

On the third shift I finally got some action by convincing a guy visiting from Seattle to let me embroider a flower on his shorts.  I had him sit on the table to my left so I could hold the shorts in my left hand and sew with my right.  Being careful not to stroke his thigh in the process.

On the fourth shift, the following evening, it was the monthly gallery hop night and there were lots of visitors.  Two of them actually brought in some mending!!!!! but I also embroidered onto three dresses.  This one belonged to a seven-year-old, with whom I had a lovely conversation about school and art.

The next two belonged to college students who are in summer school; one was taking fiber art and we talked about the role of fiber art in the greater art world.  

I had problems with this one -- the shiny, slippery machine embroidery thread is really not your first choice for hand embroidery.  Not your second, third, fourth or fifth either.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Claustrophobia in the great cities of Europe

We had a great trip to Europe earlier this spring, which included several days of museums in London. Unfortunately, it was Easter holiday and half the population of the British Isles apparently had the same agenda we did.  The British Museum was so crowded that we left rather than fight our way in to see anything.

Here's the back view of the Rosetta Stone (we never did push our way around to get the front view).

The ladies' room wasn't really this crowded, but it felt that way.

The experience made me remember similar feelings of claustrophobia in other European capitals.  I wrote a couple of years ago about escaping the Louvre in Paris and about almost passing out at the Pergamon in Berlin.

Last year it was Rome that sent me to the edge, crammed with tourists in mid-July.  Here they are in the Pantheon.

The moral of the story is clearly to avoid tourist season; go in February.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Quilt National 12 -- best in show

I'm getting tired of writing about Quilt National so I'll wind up this extended series of reviews with the best in show quilt.  I've been following Karen Schulz's work for some time, as she has been a regular in Form, Not Function, my local show.  And I confess that I liked the quilts I saw at FNF better than the one I saw at QN.

Karen Schulz, Girl in the City with Blue Hair, best in show, QN '15 (detail below)

Karen Schulz, Stonehenge-ish, FNF 2014 (detail below)

Karen Schulz, Improvisation: Two Circles, FNF 2015 

She says in her QN artist statement, "My work is primarily concerned with the formal considerations of composition.  The quilted line and the thicker couched line, both an integral part of my current efforts, grow out of the underlying structure."

In each of the three works, the composition is strong and striking; the piecing and quilting on all three works are impeccable.  But for me, the more austere color palette of the QN piece takes away from its overall impact.  

What do you think?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Quilt National 11 -- inside out

How interesting that two quilts in QN '15, taking almost the identical approach, were both from
German-speaking Europe.

Inge Hueber, Colourscape 1 (detail below)

Beatrice Lanter, hinten VII, orange (detail below)

Not sure this technique is as mind-boggling as it was twenty years ago, but still an interesting twist on the traditional pieced quilt.  Both artists are members of the obsessive-compulsive school of quiltmaking, with their individual pieces less than an inch across, and you have to admire the concentration it took to complete these rather large quilts.

I'll be a party-pooper and say that I might like to see what the other side of these quilts look like.  Also I'm sorry I didn't illegally peek at the back to see how these were quilted.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Photo suite 181 -- Woodbourne Avenue 2

We like to paint our steps on Woodbourne Avenue (well, maybe not as frequently as we should...).

Friday, June 12, 2015

Quilt National 10 -- more pieced quilts

Here are some more pieced quilts that I loved in QN '15.

Maria Shell, To Agnes Martin, With Color

Maria has made an impressive body of work out of the nine-patch, usually in its more complicated variations.  This one is the minimalist version and stunning in its simplicity.

Bonnie Bucknam, Estuary: Anaheim Back Bay

Bonnie is no stranger to QN, having won best in show four years ago.  This year's piece is smaller than she has typically worked in the past, and came about sort of by accident.  She needed a third piece to round out her QN entry and as the entry deadline approached, she hauled out her box of partial tops that for some reason had never been finished.  She sliced up two of them and combined them into this composition -- good enough to get into the show, and an intriguing new dimension to her long string of geology-themed quilts.

Gail Baar, Color Form 71

I've been privileged to see Gail's work for several years in person, as she has been a regular exhibitor in Form, Not Function, my local quilt art show.  Everything I've seen of hers in past years has been a lot smaller than her QN piece, and I think the big jump in size has been a very good idea.

Yasuko Saito, Movement #71 (detail below)

What is it with the number 71?  Maybe it's this year's good luck number.  I loved this work enough to argue for it to be best in show, until I got up close and looked at the quilting.

Somehow the swirly floral designs, which were used in most of the quilt, didn't seem to match the straight lines of the piecing.  I think it's always tricky to pair curves with straight lines (no matter which is the composition and which is the quilting) and don't think this one hit the mark.  But just stand back and fall in love!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Quilt National 9 -- pieced quilts

Let's talk about pieced quilts.  Two years ago I was seriously disappointed to see so few pieced quilts at QN '13 -- and by that I don't mean any quilts with some seams down the middle, but quilts that used piecing of different fabrics to achieve their composition and design.  Last time around I counted all of two quilts by this definition in the show, and ranted about it.  But any disproportionate presence or absence in a given show is likely to go away in the next show when you get different jurors and a different entry pool.  And I am delighted to report that those of us who practice piecing had a good day in the sun at QN '15.

Let me define "pieced quilts" even more narrowly: those that not only rely upon the juxtaposition of different fabrics to achieve their composition, but those that follow the traditional rules of quilting: neatly finished seams with no raw edges.  There were plenty of gorgeous examples of this genre.

First, I'm pleased to report that the Quilts Japan Prize, arguably a more valuable award than Best in Show, went to a pieced quilt.  I have an emotional attachment to this prize, having won it myself in 2009, and it was wonderful to have it go to a beautiful quilt made by a longtime friend of mine.

Judy Kirpich, Conflict #6/Mugging (detail below) 

I've loved Judy's work for a long time since I first met her in a workshop at Nancy Crow's barn, through her series of complicated pieced arcs and circles and now into her newer series of straight-line angst.  This quilt is about her daughter, who despite parental concern and dismay, moved to Mexico City, and then got slashed across the stomach in the course of being mugged.  (She recovered and is still in Mexico City.)

Beth Carney, Chasms 22 (detail below)

Beth is another artist whom I met many years ago at Nancy Crow's, and this series -- which apparently has been going on for quite a while, since she's up to 22 -- is a change from her previous work.

If you check out her website you can see how her meticulously pieced straight lines have gradually become meticulously pieced curves -- exactly the opposite of Judy Kirpich!  And check out her beautiful quilting.

I'll show you more pieced quilts tomorrow.